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Also Known as
Kali Mirch, Kali Miri, Black Pepper
Black peppercorn, a common ingredient in your masala dabba, was once considered so valuable that ancient communities used it as a currency to buy and sell goods!
It is produced from the still-green unripe berries of the pepper plant. The berries are cooked briefly in hot water, both to clean them and to prepare them for drying. The berries are then dried in the sun or by machine for several days, during which the pepper around the seed shrinks and darkens into a thin, wrinkled black layer. Once dried, the spice is called black peppercorn.
It has a very strong flavour and is widely used in Indian cuisine, either whole or as a powder. Ground pepper usually loses its aroma faster than whole peppercorns and thus should be stored in airtight containers. You can also use a pepper mill to grind pepper freshly as and when required.
How to select
• Whole peppercorns should be heavy, compact and free of any blemishes.
• Many grocery stores adulterate packets of peppercorns with stones and other berries, which can be easily mistaken for peppercorns. So, buy from a trusted source.
• Pepper is available packaged and from bins. If buying from bins, ensure the bins were closed to keep away dust and grime. If buying packaged, check the seal and the use-by date to ensure freshness.
• Do not buy and stock too much black pepper powder. It is better to buy whole peppercorns and grind them in small batches, or as and when required. This ensures better flavour, and also avoids contamination that is common in pepper powder.
• Black peppercorns can be used whole or in powdered form as the recipe demands.
• Whole black peppercorn is roasted and ground with other ingredients to make powders like garam masala, sambhar powder, rasam powder etc.
• Use black peppercorns tempered with ghee in biryanis, pulaos, dals and curries.
• Crushed black peppercorns are widely used to flavour sandwiches.
• Use powdered black pepper in soups, sauces, stocks and stews for that pungent zing.
• Crushed black peppercorns go well with curds and yoghurts. Thus, use them in raitas, dips and marinades.
• In South India, peppercorn is widely used in the preparation of rasam, a thin soup eaten with rice and ghee.
How to store
Store black peppercorns/coarsely crushed black peppercorns in airtight containers in a cool and dry place.
• Black peppercorns act as digestive stimulants.
• People suffering from cough and other respiratory issues should include peppercorns in their diet. Its pungent flavour causes the mucus in the nose and throat to be released.
• Black peppercorns heal the inner system for women who have just delivered and thus a diet rich in pepper is served to new mothers.
• Black pepper contains the enzyme "piperine" which can dramatically increase the absorption of nutrients like vitamin B, selenium and beta-carotene.
• Black peppercorns also figure in Ayurveda and Siddha remedies. Books have mentioned how they help combat illnesses like diarrhoea, constipation, joint pains, indigestion, tooth decay, tooth aches etc.